In the pond of S'Ena Arrubia fishermen bet on innovation to protect environment and tradition

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"Thirty years ago the pond was like a forest. The pine forest as a frame, and all the possible plants here, in the middle. Especially cattail. It was very high, we had created passages to move from one place to another of the fishpond. And the fauna then. Not only the fish, sea and pond were very rich. Before the drought changed everything, we fished twenty-pound carps. We fished all year, not just between May and December, as we do now. An osprey has been watching us working for years, resting on that pole over there. Then it disappeared. How much satisfaction this job gave me. I'm a nature fanatic. We only had a tent held up by a pole. We slept here all night. We watched over poaching. It was much more difficult to surprise them. This place really was a forest. We got up early to go out to sea or to fish in the fishpond, back in those days it was made of reeds. How many difficulties, though. I remember the flood of 2013. Those three days wiped out everything".

Giuseppe Vacca has been president of the Sant'Andrea cooperative for fourteen years, until 2011. Over the years, the cooperative founded by people from Terralba has been progressively taken over by Marrubiu's men, the same ones who, still strong in their aged bodies, divvy up in front of the sedge house the fish by species and weight. Much has changed since the days when the vegetation grew wild. The fever of the climate and the market have also touched S'Ena Arrubia, “the bend that turns red” at sunset. As if the ancient rite of fishing no longer knew how to respond to new modern gods. This is why “we wanted these guys. They went to high school or university. I blame myself, too. We must quit with the old mentality", says Giuseppe.

"They insisted so much that after three months I eventually agreed" continues the story Alberto Porcu, 36, the new cooperative’s president. "I started in March, I had never been a fisherman. I was working and still I am working in a supermarket. My brother Alessandro is a computer engineer, and he’s the administrative manager. They helped us understand the job very quickly, and we still have to learn a lot. Unfortunately, the beginning could not have been more complicated. After a few days we immediately had to face a real crisis”.

The first blight took place in late June, and led to the loss of all the bass and sea bream juveniles. The second followed just a week later. The final strike arrived in mid-July, with the almost total annihilation of the fish fauna. "The Forest Guard intervened, as did the ARPAS (Regional Agency for the Protection of the Environment) and the AGRIS (Regional Agency for Research in Agriculture) technicians. People of the IMC (International Marine Center) did all the analysis. In the tip of the marina the oxygen was recorded at 0.2. Almost absent. Imagine in the pond. We have lost everything" explains Alberto. “There are several causes twined together. The water coming from the Sassu pump is not decanted, because of a broken pipe in the Sant’Anna area, that now thanks to the intervention of the Reclamation Consortium will be fixed. The conditions in the pond have changed so radically that today we struggle to find the few grams of clams that serve the ASL for the analyzes that guarantee the qualification of the waters. Years ago boys sometimes managed to make income only with clams. But then not all these algae existed. With decomposition they burn all the oxygen around".

Certainly the sluices of the plant built by the Reclamation Consortium, which has never worked, do not help. Some remain closed and prevent the exchange of water between the sea and the pond. The flow of the fish with the tide is then disturbed by the passage of the boats: "A few Sundays ago we counted 57 trolleys, that is to say 57 boats crossing the mouth of the pond". Despite all the twenty members of the cooperative resist, every day they return to the fish farm to limit the damage. It's eight in the morning. Marcello and Renato return from the “goblets”, large triangular traps where mullets slipped away from the nets gather. Smiling, they show a specimen of almost five kilos. In a basket’s bottom still moves its blue claws a king crab, an alien species from North America. In the sedge house Giancarlo slices open the specimens from the

swollen bellies: the knife cuts vertically, the hand draws a yellowish heart, the compact mass of eggs that will give bottarga, the mullet’s caviar. The van is ready to go around for sale.

"We're trying to make it up with the bottarga. We sell fish and eggs to producers, or we divide them among the cooperative’s members. The mullets are late, years ago, the boys tell me, in this period the passage had already ended. Everything is changing", says Alberto. Not only for the worse, however. Alberto's enthusiasm, with the help of his brother Alessandro made sure that the 2008 project, buried by bureaucratic complications, has been dusted off and completed. The sedge house, probably next year, will host a small restaurant. Forty seats plus some others under the pergola. The guardian's house will instead host a kiosk, the only service within three kilometers. Tourists will be able to take a boat trip along the coast, and learn about the net fishing that the fishermen take on the old "ciu", the flat-bottomed boats now moored in the small pier.

"We have so many ideas, one is to try farming oysters. Another is to create an IGP brand for our mullet. But above all we think of a synergic action carried out with the institutions and other economic actors working in tish the territory, so that the development, the transition from the old to the new production models, can take place according to criteria of environmental sustainability. We need to make sure that this job is no longer seasonal, but can guarantee a small constant income for everyone", explains Alberto. "This trade must not be replaced. Although I arrived few months ago, like the others I immediately felt part of the pond. Tonight, once I finished at supermarket, I came for a check. You never know with poachers. This is our home. Sometimes I lie on the bottom of the boat and look at the sky. It’s hard to describe. You free yourself from all thoughts. I feel one thing only with all that is around".